Are we raising a culture of future employees who are terrified of making decisions and avoiding responsibility?
As always, I read with great enjoyment Charlie Mullins' Real Business column. In this week's "A tale of a King, his subjects and our responsibility" he says that the ‘not me guv’ defence has allowed the powerful to get away with practically anything, in particular when claiming ignorance of their underlings' ill deeds.
I am 100 per cent with Charlie that it is truly disgusting to have such a huge contrast between one branch of society to another. He argues that the likes of Bob Diamond hide behind the most unbelievable claims to ignorance and so the comeback must be to make it criminal to run a major operation without knowing what is going on. To some extent we have this in business already; ignorance is often no defence. We still have to pay for goods bought without our knowledge, apologise for errors we weren’t aware of and be subject to investigations where ignorance is often no defence within bounds of HR and Health and Safety. I agree entirely that more culpability to those seemingly protected from same would be entirely reasonable.
I would argue, however, that there is something equally sinister going on with the subjects' responsibilities – or rather the ever-increasing lack of ability to take any. We may all justifiably protest about those in power avoiding responsibility, but a lethal combination of a growing culture that believes the state will provide, the pressures of an over-results orientated education system and a strong dose of US litigation happy culture is resulting in generations of employees who are increasingly unable to take any responsibility for themselves whatsoever.
I'm a believer and supporter of the welfare state. I agree that we need to take care of the weaker members of our society. Sadly, there has been plenty of abuse of the system. Too many have seen it as a free load; too many manipulate it and obtain anything from extra benefits to free housing and avoiding work by a variety of means. It's very much a case of the few spoiling it for the masses, but tragically there is an element in our society which expects the state to provide for them when they are no different from those who honestly pay their dues.
While primary school education is still able to focus on encouraging self-responsibility, secondary schools and colleges are forced to obtain their funding by feeding exam content into their charges. They're hardly able to teach their pupils how to draw individual conclusions and think for themselves. Too high is the awareness that parents, governors, inspectors would be clamouring for answers should the actual “proof” of a set of exam results not be in the pudding.
Finally, schools, bosses and individuals alike are terrorized by the threat of litigation. Again, I absolutely recognize that there are genuine cases that should have the facility and be upheld to take action where wrong has been done. Thanks to the spread of the American contemporary passion for suing, however, the common man is only too aware that they can threaten to sue at the drop of a proverbial hat. A law case would cause the recipient so much time, trouble and money that some would crumble, as do the receivers of any blackmail threat. More oft than not, this is based on the exact defence of “it’s not my fault gov” – therefore it must be yours.
These three combined are turning out new generations who are both unpractised and terrified of making any decisions, incapable of taking any responsibility. Those are the better ones – the minority are those who are determined to avoid taking any at all costs. And why not, if by bending the system or aggressively threatening they can get exactly what they want in life.
These trends will only increase unless all three are attacked: the benefit system finally tightened to get rid of those who defraud it; the schools encouraged to turn out well rounded individuals who are capable of taking decisions and educated into levels and careers that suit them as individuals; the laws changed so that the penalties on those who bring litigation for personal gain rather than justice suffer more than the recipient.
It is not just the kings we should be worrying about. Until this happens, we will have a kingdom of increasingly de-motivated, ever poorer quality employees, and the result will be an ever poorer exchequer.
Jan Cavelle is founder of the Jan Cavelle Furniture Company.